Think about the trash can in a kitchen. When the garbage is left too long, it begins to stink. This odor is coming from its rotting contents, which are being saturated with bacteria. So, when the styrofoam and plastic package that chicken came in is tossed in the trash and left to sit in a warm, dark kitchen can for a day or so, the bacteria multiplies to such a level that it gives off a smell that calls out, “Take out the trash!”
Why am I mentioning a trash can’s odor? This is meant to illustrate how the mouth undergoes a similar process. And bad breath is the mouth’s signal that it contains too much bacteria.
Dentists want you to floss your teeth daily for a good reason. When food particles are caught between teeth, these bits begin to rot (unless removed soon after by brushing and flossing). Too, insufficient or infrequent tooth brushing allows oral bacteria to accumulate to levels beyond what saliva can rinse away.
Although saliva is designed to move bacteria out of the mouth, it can only handle just so much. When you consider the vast number of people who have ‘dry mouth’ (either persistently or frequently), a depleted saliva flow becomes unable to keep bacteria levels under control. (See below for causes and contributors to ‘dry mouth.’)
Over the course of a day (or night), oral bacteria reproduce in the mouth and form a sticky film, known as plaque. Plaque can actually be felt by running your tongue over your teeth when you first wake up. This is what some people refer to as a ‘fuzzy mouth.’
Because your mouth has given bacteria a warm, dark, and moist environment all night, their reproduction was massive. If you sleep for 8 hours, you can imagine how much bacteria the mouth accumulate between a 7am brushing to your 10pm brushing before bed. And that’s assuming a twice-a-day brushing schedule.
Studies have shown that only 69 percent of American adults brush their teeth twice a day. This leaves 31 percent who are only brushing once a day, not nearly enough to keep oral bacteria levels under control. This number is even worse for adults categorized as Millenials (who are between ages 21 – 39 in 2021).
A study of 2,000 American adults was shared in 2018 that revealed only a third of millenials brush twice a day. A large number admitted to occasionally going two days without brushing at all. (https://nypost.com/2018/02/23/millennials-are-terrible-at-keeping-their-teeth-clean/)
Although the guideline of “brush twice a day and floss daily” may sound like a dated one, it is actually an effective, time-efficient and inexpensive way to keep oral bacteria levels manageable.
There is not much that leaves such a lasting impression as being in close proximity with someone who has bad breath. It tends to become what is associated with the individual from then on. No one wants this negative ‘label,’ especially when bad breath can come from more sources than inadequate oral hygiene at home.
How do you keep your breath fresh for holiday gatherings, and every day? How can you lower the risk for cavities and gum disease? By taking steps to keep oral bacteria levels low, you can enjoy the confidence of fresh breath and a brighter smile. Below are some easy tips:
• Brush at least twice a day, for at least two minutes per brushing. This is true whether using a manual toothbrush or an electric one. However, an electric toothbrush will do a better job at helping to control plaque.
• After brushing teeth, brush your tongue with your toothbrush. Some toothbrushes have a surface for this on the back side of the bristles. Be sure to reach the back portion of your tongue, where most bacteria are embedded. Your gag reflex will tell you when you’ve gone far enough.
• Floss daily to remove food particles caught between teeth that a toothbrush can’t dislodge. To use a comfortable, effective technique, watch a brief video at: Flossing Made Simple. You may also want to purchase a water flosser. These are easy to use and can be just as effective as manual flossing.
• Be committed to having dental cleanings every 6 months so hardened plaque (known as tartar) can be removed. These cement-hard masses are formed by bacterial build-up and cannot be brushed or flossed away. Tartar is what your dental hygienist is scraping off teeth during cleanings using special tools.
• Drink lots of water throughout the day. If you prefer to flavor your water, use cucumber or add some fresh mint leaves. Adding lemon makes the water too acidic, which can be damaging for tooth enamel. Oral dryness is also a normal part of the aging process, so be especially diligent about drinking water.
• Swish water in the mouth after drinking coffee, tea, cola, and alcoholic beverages. These are very drying to oral tissues and should be diluted after consuming.
• If you take medications that are drying to the mouth, consider using an oral rinse specifically formulated to replenish oral moisture. (Never use oral products containing alcohol, which is a drying agent to oral tissues.) Chew sugarless gum to give saliva a boost.
Healthy gums that are not overloaded with bacteria are a healthy pink color without areas that are tender or swollen. If you see blood in the sink while brushing, it DOES NOT mean you’re doing a good job. You should never see blood, which is a symptom of gum disease.
A daily commitment to your oral hygiene routine will require a total of about 5 minutes and cost you pennies. Keeping a healthy mouth will help you have fresh breath as well as a reduced risk of cavities, gum disease, and even serious health problems elsewhere in the body.
Decades of research has shown that oral bacteria can cause inflammatory reactions that can activate or even worsen a number of serious health conditions. These include heart disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease/dementia, preterm babies, some cancers, arthritis, diabetes, and erectile dysfunction (ED).
The rewards of a healthy mouth are many. In addition to fresher breath, you’ll reduce the risk for cavities and gum disease, which can be a tremendous savings of time and money at the dentist’s office. You’ll also be giving your overall immune system a helping hand. By reducing inflammation in the mouth, the immune system can function more efficiently to tend to other areas of the body.
If dental fear has prevented you from having regular dental check-ups and cleanings, our office is known for a gentle touch and compassionate care. Additionally, our Shelby Twp dental office offers oral and IV sedation. Both are safely administered and provide a relaxing experience with minimal recovery time needed.